Toxic Clothing and Bedding: Its Threat To Children

By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC

One evening, I was watching CNN and Anderson Cooper was doing a special on toxic children. The segment was focused on high amounts of polybromated diphenyl (PBDE’s) found in children’s blood. These PBDE’s are found in flame retardants, makeup and computer goods. They chose two young children who had no apparent outward problems. Their test results showed remarkably high levels of PBDE’s. The parents were shocked and couldn’t figure out how such an abnormally high level could get into their children’s bloodstream. They eventually pinned it down to the flame retardant coated on the children’s pajamas. Young children wear pajamas for very long amounts of time due to their need for more sleep (Usually twelve plus hours). Which is half of the day! Most pajamas in the U.S. have a layer of flame retardant on them. Ever since that episode, I try and look for eco-friendly organic cottons for at least their pajamas. If I cannot find them, the kids will wear sweats in the winter or t’shirts in the summer.

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in major health problems among children, including asthma, childhood cancer and developmental disorders.  Some public health advocates and environmentalists believe that one cause could be a chemical used in flame retardant materials used in clothing and computer goods called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).  They believe that not enough is being done to ensure the safety of these materials.


An Unnatural Experiment

Lack of testing and regulation regarding these chemicals has created a situation that Dr. Leo Trasande of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Center for Children’s Health and the Environment calls “an unnatural experiment” in the United States.

According to Trasande, PBDEs could be the cause of more childhood diseases and disorders than we expect. Many public health experts believe that PBDEs may cause irreparable damage to the nervous system and reproductive system.  However, studies on the effects of PBDEs have not been adequately conducted.

What is known is that North Americans have 10-20 times higher levels of PBDEs in their body than Europeans, and this amount is doubling every 4 to 5 years.  This is according to studies by Indiana University’s Ronald Hites.

The harmful effects of PBDEs may not be scientifically proven, but proof or not the European Union banned them in 2004.  Japan phased them out of their electrical products over several years and California banned certain types in 2008.  Although evidence of harmful effects is lacking, some countries and states are not willing to be guinea pigs.

Only one United States manufacturer voluntarily quit using them in 2004 (Great Lakes Chemical Corporation of West Lafayette, IN), but they are still used in electrical equipment, construction materials, textiles, sleepwear and mattresses in the US today.


One Solution – Organic Baby Clothes

Because babies and small children are constantly developing new tissue in the body, they are at higher risk.  They also eat, drink and breathe more than adults.  One thing that you can do to minimize this risk is to buy organic baby clothes.  These are clothes that do not contain harmful chemicals, dyes, bleaches or other toxins.

Chemicals found in baby clothes to make them wrinkle-free, stain-resistant, waterproof or flame retardant can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.  They can also contain residue that the infant can inhale.

Synthetic clothing also poses a risk to the environment.  These chemicals can pollute the air, soil and groundwater.  Organic clothing is made without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides.  They are also biodegradable, which means that they will not end up in landfills.

Organic clothes are also stronger than those made with synthetic chemicals, which are over-processed.  This over-processing destroys the natural fibers.  Organic clothes are also more breathable, which means that they’re naturally more comfortable.

Organic bedding is another good idea to protect infants and small children.  It is made from organically-grown cotton that is treated using biodegradable means.  When dyes are used, they are non-toxic and eco-friendly.  Small children and babies spend many hours sleeping and breathing in pesticides and other chemicals from their bedding.  Organic bedding reduces allergic reactions and helps to reduce  problems like asthma and eczema. While organic, flame retardant mattresses tend to be quite costly, it is worth the money to invest in them. We spend so many hours sleeping and inhaling these chemicals. We all have organic mattresses and for the longest time I couldn’t afford to buy the rest of the furniture. We put our organic mattresses on the floor and slept like that for about a year until we saved up for the rest of the furniture.

When buying organic clothes and bedding, look for a seal that says “Certified Organic.”  It is much easier to find these goods than ever before, and most large retailers carry them.




Miller, Jordana, “Tests reveal high chemical levels in kids’ bodies,” October 22, 2001, CNN –


Helmenstine, Dr. Anne Marie, “Flame Retardant People,” –


“Organic Baby Clothing: Choosing Natural Clothes That Are Kind and Healthy for Our Children and Good for Our Planet,” Organic Family Circle –


McIntosh, Stephanie, “Why choose organic bedding?” Organic Family Circle –



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